Every day I wake up with the horror of knowing Donald Trump will be our president. It’s not just the man in his love of violence and scorn of intellect that scares me, but that so many people voted for him in this country, supposedly the land of the free, a haven from tyranny, with a Bill of Rights enshrined in our laws.
I fear for the safety of my family and friends and wonder if I will have to witness brutality in public places as Trump supporters go after their declared enemies, knowing the law, more and more, is on their side. And what will I do? Will I will be able to help the victims? Will others help? Will they go after me? Or will the firewall of cities and states standing up to Trump hold against the power of the federal government?
Will we go to nuclear war? I made fun of Trump’s enthusiasm for nuclear weapons on my Facebook page, only to find comments from someone saying that it’s time our country show who’s boss by using nuclear weapons. Even if people are unconcerned about innocent children and families dying in this horrific way, are they also unconcerned how the rest of the world will see the U.S. if we did that? Do they understand the U.S. would have no moral authority and would be a target for nuclear retaliation? I used to think I would only have to raise such points and debate this with insane people who have no influence on our country’s policies.
The day Donald Trump announced his candidacy should have been the end of his campaign, when he decided he wanted to talk about Mexicans and how they’re rapists. I’ve met many people from Mexico, and, as far as I know, not one of them was a rapist. Indeed, crime statistics show more native born, Caucasian people in the U.S. commit rape, most often against people of the same background. However, I understand Trump’s saying what he said taps into people’s fears and thus aggressive instincts. The Nazis used this idea effectively against Jews, that they were filthy devils raping the nation’s women and contaminating the nation with their degenerate genes. I figured most people in the U.S. also understood how he was trying to manipulate people by taking a page from the fascist playbook.
(By the way, I tried the same, supposedly harmless, rhetoric back on a Trump supporter online on election night, stating that Trump supporters “are people with lots of problems — they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people…” The guy found these words too offensive to continue the dialog from there. Indeed the Trump rape lawsuit fell apart only because the accuser dropped it, after receiving death threats.)
However, his campaign picked up more support. Much of the news media were happy to give him free, mostly unchallenged, airtime, most of his talk unchallenged lies. He continued to speak in rallies where he and the crowd pushed each other farther and farther than either side would expect into hate speech, much like Hitler. In his “thank you” tour after the election, he openly mocked his adoring crowds.
When protesters attended and spoke out during his rallies, he encouraged the crowd to beat them up, breaking a norm within our republic that tolerates dissent and does not meet opposing views with violence in order to silence them. Donald Trump was never charged for inciting violence and his momentum continued.
Will it be safe to have different opinions from the majority in the future? Isn’t dissent from the majority opinion a protected right crucial for our republic? And, on the other side of that, does the majority opinion count at all over rules meant to keep former slaveholders happy?
One thing about the election is that it woke me from my slumber inside a bubble. I came to New York in my mid-twenties largely because I thought the city was more open and sophisticated, a place of tolerance and emerging ideas. Perhaps I’ve been shielded from red America, though in New York City, I have still met people with a conservative bent, especially where it comes to government regulation of the economy, but I have also listened to bigoted rants from New Yorkers. Overall, New York City seems to be better for tolerance toward different people than other places in the country.
When I was in high school, in an Ohio suburb in the mid-80s, when Reagan was the U.S. president, I had a darker view of our country’s future than I did just before the 2016 election. I told classmates that the United States would become a fascist dictatorship within twenty years. Apparently, I was off by just a dozen years. At the time I said the new persecution target would be homosexuals. One kid doubted it because families would never let that happen to family members, and I said they wouldn’t care. The event that would precede this rise in reactionism would be an economic catastrophe, where the deficit would cause inflation and unemployment (stagflation), i.e, economic collapse.
I have since dismissed much of what I said as my misinformed teen years, as far as understanding economics better and where I lacked a more complete understanding of how ingrained democratic thinking and culture is in our country. However, we’ve seen more and more people in recent times dismiss democratic values.
I’ve long dismissed alternative historical scenarios where the Germans won World War II as extremely remote possibilities, but now I feel like my family and I could be characters in such a book or show. Indeed Trump has put Jews on his list, but I would oppose his hatred even if it were other groups instead — how hypocritical of me if it weren’t otherwise, and I would be on his list as a dissenter in any case.
I understand the appeal to allay economic distress and how the lower middle class has been displaced, but I think they often blame the wrong people or causes, not worrying about details. Obama had talked about a jobs bill that went nowhere in Congress with GOP leaders hoping and planning for Obama’s failure so that the blame would go to him. Again, here with the resultant devastation to working Americans, Trump has used the same strategy as Hitler, with the same appeal. And Hillary, maybe inspired by Robert Reich and whole list of ignored Democrats, had offered a strategy for worker displacement, i.e., government assisted job-retraining for one, but whenever I mention that to people, it seems like I’m the only one who heard — people seem to have been too preoccupied with emails and what she was wearing to listen to that.
By the way, people in blue states are getting more jobs where they have elected people to raise the minimum wage, while red states continue electing people who decimate their economies versus the more prosperous blue states.
One thing I’ve noticed is that it is impossible to reason with Trump supporters. Their support is emotion-based, same as Hitler’s appeal. I’ve noticed male Trump supporters make ad hominem attacks and attack the sexuality of their targets (belittling the masculinity of male targets and the appearance of female targets), as Trump has done repeatedly. Trump, and his supporters, exhibit the same preoccupation in asserting their masculinity, as if it’s under threat, the same issue Hitler had.
So what’s my point of the Hitler comparison, often a trite comparison online? Am I trying to suggest Trump will choose a similar path for the United States as Hitler did for Germany? I’m hoping that if enough people predict this danger, we can prevent this, just as the failure to anticipate Hitler’s danger helped him succeed.
What if Trump’s deeds match his rhetoric? It’s impossible to accurately predict and horrifying to ponder. It’s important to understand what Nazi Germany can teach us, that changes happened in stages in a steady progression toward genocide.
If we can just step outside the moment to compare the kind of talk we hear about different population segments versus what we have heard in the past, we can see the thresholds we have already crossed.
And hate speech evolves into actions that become normal, as shocking as it seems to outsiders.
But Germany in World War II is probably just the genocide most people recognize among many. It’s important to understand that genocide might be more of a norm than an exception. For example, we celebrate Columbus Day in the U.S., the beginning of an era of terror, slavery and mass death for the original inhabitants. But even if we dismiss that as something from our distant, more brutal past, the U.S. military committed genocide in the Philippines at the end of the 19th century. “Never Again” is the phrase we hear about the Nazi orchestrated holocaust, but since then, there have been many more, including Guatemala, Cambodia, East Timor, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Darfur (and Syria?) among a long list.
With the Rwandan genocide, hate speech, especially on the radio, helped fuel the killings. But we prefer to think we are different, even when we see evidence that we are not. Regarding Donald Trump and anti-semitism, we shouldn’t draw too much comfort from his son-in-law being Jewish. This hasn’t stopped him from welcoming the support of white supremacists. Also, it was largely through manipulating his father when he suffered from dementia and denying hospital care to his brother’s infant child, forcing his brother to give up a legal fight, that he acquired his inheritance. And he cheated on at least two of his three wives. So we can’t put our faith in his family loyalty.
A few days ago, Trump referred to his “enemies,” presumably, but not necessarily limited to, people who disagree with him, even while he might have worked with an adversarial state. At this time, we have overwhelming evidence of an adversarial state assisting him, something he publicly asked for.
Maybe there’s hope in just how diverse we are and, although people have committed thousands of lynchings, there hasn’t been an open campaign to wipe out people considered citizens, even though the U.S. committed genocide against America’s first inhabitants. And Trump has been using anti-immigrant rhetoric in a nation of immigrants.
But even if we’re only flirting with going down that dark road of genocide, there are plenty of other upcoming problems to worry about. For example, even though Hillary was supposedly the corrupt one, suddenly, corruption is something we are embracing. And many Americans could die because they won’t be able to access health care, even if they voted for Trump. Couldn’t they see he was a con-artist, after “Trump University” and all the people he never paid fully? Didn’t his fearful picture of our country that he said he alone could fix sound off alarm bells of an autocrat and con-artist? (And aren’t we a people who fix our problems in partnership with those who serve in government, and not as passive, dependent infants?)
Some make the laughable claim that they support him because he’s a successful businessman. He would have done better with his inheritance by leaving it alone in a fund. By the way, being successful in business has been no guarantee of translating into success in governing, but Trump lacks even that.
So far, Trump has been appointing “successful people” to positions that seem to conflict with their own interests. But we have a Congress that seems only too happy with this development, as they probably were last time, in 1928. I consider the socio-economic policies I advocate similar to what astronomers call the Goldilocks Zone — I understand that being too close to the sun makes life impossible, but being where Pluto is, where Paul Ryan and other Ayn Rand followers live, also destroys life’s chances. While capitalism can be the most efficient means of producing wealth, left unregulated it ossifies with a tiny group of wealthy people making all the rules and locking the rest out, creating a plutocracy. One of our strengths in our country has been its pragmatism — we have been able to work outside the system and tweak it, as no system is complete or perfect. When I was in college and I met Marxists trying to convert me, I always countered that they’re simply advocating for a system that creates a monopoly, the same problem they have their grievances with, when a small group controls the whole economy. I find it no accident that people don’t know whether to call Putin a neo-commmunist or crony capitalist. I always saw the two as vehicles to the same situation, though their ideologies may be different. And their adherents both ignore and change facts to support their view, instead of allowing them to penetrate. Thus, it’s no accident that the right has so much admiration for Putin.
The middle class in the U.S. grew after World War II largely from cheap or free college education, easy credit for buying houses, protection of organized labor to negotiate higher wages and minimum wage laws. For the latter two, even for people not in labor unions or working at minimum wage, this forced employers to raise everyone else’s wages or salaries. And this created a class of people with money to spend, helping small businesses and new companies.
Hopefully, when the economic inequalities and failures under a Trump administration get bad enough, enough people will see what is happening. Hopefully, they are not easily misled into blaming Mexicans, Muslims or Jews. Hopefully, there will be enough power in numbers to finally do something about it like in the ending from the movie version of Animal Farm, that could just as well be about plutocracy and crony capitalism as it is about communism. It’s unfortunate that we will have to come to such a reckoning of suffering and risk to our national security with a president who hardly bothers with PDBs (Presidential Daily Briefings) — things didn’t work out the last time we had a president (George W. Bush) who ignored them. At that point, the NATO alliance and Europe could be in shambles. We can still use the recent past as a guide to resist and follow the steps laid out in a recent New York Times editorial. Maybe he will be impeached, but there’s still the Vice President and Paul Ryan in respective succession.
In spite of all the bad news, there are a few reasons to hope that the U.S. will not become a totalitarian regime, something right-wing Republicans despised when Reagan was president. Trump has taken a stand against our country’s national heroes, from Jefferson with the Bill of Rights to Lincoln in his anti-slavery stance and talk of “government of the people, by the people and for the people,” to Franklin Roosevelt fighting against the axis powers and fascism to Reagan’s resistance to Soviet totalitarianism.
And while Trump has his own private security, they are not the reactionary paramilitary troops of Hitler’s SA. Nor have we gone through regional insurrections and counter-insurrections to welcome reactionary forces.
We should also remember that protagonists in our most popular movies are fighting for a republic and against autocracy. They are the good guys.
Still, American fascists will cloak themselves in the flag and insist they’re fighting for our freedom. And it’s worth asking fascists, or ‘alt-right’ Americans, if they were trying to find someone to destroy our country, wouldn’t they pick Trump? After all, his constant us versus them rants and hostile divisions he has been stirring up in his hateful rhetoric fits perfectly with the divide and conquer (or divide and rule) strategy that allowed the Spanish to conquer much of the Americas.
Recent history has shown it unwise to underestimate The Donald. We can still think he’s a buffoon if we want, while fighting back hard. People laughed at Hitler and constantly underestimated him outside Germany and within. However, if people who believe in our country’s ideals (always a work-in-progress), in Roosevelt’s four freedoms (for all citizens) and in working on making the U.S. a land of opportunity for all, constantly peacefully resist and fight decisively, there is an opportunity to make everything we now fear an alternative outcome that never happened. Congress’s recent backing down on gutting the Ethics Committee is a perfect example, but it’s up to all of us.